A saffron supplement may be tempting thanks to its long list of purported benefits, but more research is needed on its effectiveness . Saffron has been used in Middle Eastern cultures as a sweet and bitter culinary ingredient for over 1000 years. Ancient cultures believed that saffron cured many ailments. Today, research into saffron's medicinal benefits hints at its potential effectiveness to treat depression and cancer.
Saffron is a spice made from the Crocus sativus plant and is reportedly the most expensive spice in the world. The cost is due to the painstaking method for harvesting the stigmas, which are the small stalks in the inner part of the flower that collect pollen. Each bloom typically has three stigmas and the stigmas are plucked from the plant by hand. The deep yellowish-red colored stigmas are then dried and ground into a powder that is used to manufacture supplements. A saffron supplement includes a concentrated form of this powder.
Saffron Medicinal Uses
Ancient Egyptians used saffron extracts as an aphrodisiac and to treat measles and dysentery. Starting around 1500, European herbalists used saffron to treat cramps, flatulence, gout, stomach upset and coughs. There is no clinical evidence that saffron treats any of these ailments. Although some studies have been conducted on saffron and published in the Experimental Biology and Medicine Journal, the general consensus of the medical community is that there is not enough evidence to support any claims regarding saffron's ability to stomach ailments, cramps and gout.
Dr. Daniel Hall-Flavin of the Mayo Clinic does note, however, that saffron may improve depression symptoms. The National Cancer Institute indicates a form of saffron known as Indian saffron is being studied for its possible use in treating cancer, Alzheimer disease, cystic fibrosis, and psoriasis. The chemical curcumin is the specific ingredient being studied. Curcumin gives saffron its deep yellow color. Curcumin is also an active ingredient in the spice Curcuma longa, or turmeric, which is sometimes used as a less expensive alternative to saffron in herbal medicine.
Saffron Supplement Side Effects
There is no specific dosage recommendations for saffron supplements. It is important to understand the possible side effects of consuming even a small amount of saffron. A daily dose of more than five grams may cause the following overdose symptoms:
- Blood in the urine
If you experience any of the above symptoms, stop taking the saffron supplement and seek medical treatment.
Serious side effects from taking a saffron supplement include:
- Change in appetite
- Difficulty breathing
Hives and difficulty breathing may be evidence of a serious allergic reaction to this supplement. If you experience any difficult in breathing, swelling of the tongue or lips or hives, seek emergency treatment at the nearest hospital or clinic. You may be suffering from an allergic reaction to saffron. Any allergic reactions require immediate medical treatment.
Note of Caution
Pregnant women should never take a saffron supplement. Saffrom may stimulate the uterine wall and cause contractions leading to miscarriage or premature birth of the fetus. It is also unknown how a saffron supplement may affect infants and children. If you are nursing an infant, do not use saffron, and do not give this supplement to children.
A saffron supplement is expensive, and the reported benefits have not been proven in clinical tests. While a little saffron used in culinary dishes is safe, high doses of saffron can cause unpleasant or dangerous side effects. Proceed with caution and consult your doctor to determine if a saffron supplement is the right option for you. Always tell your doctor about any herbs, supplements or vitamins that you are taking as some may interact with medications.